Lawyers line up on Council rates stoush

John Bull St business owners Kim Morris and Lisa Robinson. Ms Robinson hosted a meeting for affected ratepayers at her health and fitness business on Thursday night.

John Bull St business owners Kim Morris and Lisa Robinson. Ms Robinson hosted a meeting for affected ratepayers at her health and fitness business on Thursday night.

QUEANBEYAN ratepayers and Councillors will hold separate meetings over the next week to consider their legal options as the fallout from Queanbeyan "rates debacle" continues.

Affected ratepayers attended a meeting held at local health and fitness business owner Lisa Robinson's John Bull Street shopfront on Thursday night (last night). Last week Ms Robinson received a back-dated rates invoice of $7,000 for sewer and water charges dating back to 2009. Her neighbouring business owner Kim Morris received one for $10,000, and the pair have since spoken to a number of ratepayers with higher bills, some in the $30,000 range and at least one over $90,000. Over the last week they've set up Facebook page called 'Queanbeyan rates debacle' as a contact point for those affected (around 5 per cent of Queanbeyan properties).

Queanbeyan council advised affected ratepayers last week that an audit of its property database going back to the 2009-10 financial year had uncovered $3.7 million worth of outstanding rates. Invoices hit letterboxes last Monday, although around 2,000 properties were overcharged on their rates bill and will receive refunds, with one ratepayer regaining $60,000

Mr Morris told The Queanbeyan Age this week that the aim of the ratepayers' meeting was to get affected ratepayers together and work out a course of action to challenge the bills.

"We really just want to get together, let people vent their feelings, and try and make a decision on where we go from here," Mr Morris said. "Probably the next thing to do is get some legal advice."

The phones were running hot for both Mr Morris and his neighbour Ms Robinson after they appeared on the front page of last week's Queanbeyan Age, announcing their intention to file a class action to challenge the invoices.

However Mr Morris said on Thursday morning that they'd be considering a range of options at this week's meeting.

"We've given everyone a week to settle down a bit- there were some pretty hot heads last week, so hopefully we can get together, have a chat about it and work out where to go from here," he said.

Meanwhile Queanbeyan Councillors will also discuss the issue at a workshop next Wednesday night where councillors will get to review Council's legal advice.

Queanbeyan Mayor Tim Overall returned from an overseas trip early this week and said his sympathies were with those residents who received backdated bills.

"Of course, this is a highly regrettable situation and one in which I am in sympathy with those adversely affected.

"The unfortunate state of affairs is that Council is legally required to levy rates and charges in accordance with the legislation even in the event of an error.

"It is not a legal option for Council to waive rates and this would also create an unfair advantage to a small proportion when 95 per cent of other residents have already paid the correct amounts," he said.

However Councillor Jamie Cregan called the move to backdate the charges "uncaring, unbusinesslike and unprofessional" and said he intended to move a motion at the next meeting of Council to write off the $3.7-million cost.

Mayor Overall said Council's legal representatives would be available at the workshop to explain the basis of Council's legal position to Councillors.

"Councillors will then be very much aware of what they may or may not be able to put forward at the next council meeting," Cr Overall told The Canberra Times this week.

Member for Monaro John Barilaro has also been outspoken against the backdated charges and is seeking advice from the Minister for Local Government on whether Council can still levy the old charges.

However despite the legal manoeuvring to come, Lisa Robinson said the issue for her was simply one of fairness

"The crux of this is that I feel we have fulfilled our side of the contract. If you're given a bill and you pay it, then who are they to say [later] 'this is incorrect.' Why is it incorrect? That's not up to us," she said..

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